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COMPUTING

Microsoft banks on ClearType to spur electronic books

June 18, 1999
Web posted at: 2:59 p.m. EDT (1859 GMT)

by Jeff Walsh

From...
InfoWorld

(IDG) -- Microsoft expects its ClearType technology, for improved on-screen readability, and its proposed Open eBook standard, for publishing electronic books, to launch a new wave of products and commerce options.
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Dick Brass, vice president of technology development at Microsoft, said the technologies will launch a lot of new areas such as eBooks, tablet PCs, ePads and ePaper, with eBooks to come out of the gate first with "major announcements" in about six months.

Brass admits that many of these concepts are not new, with attempts at tablet PCs beginning in the 1980s and running through Apple's Newton computer. But with advances in hardware and more immersive reading now possible with ClearType, Brass thinks the time now may be right.

According to Brass, concepts such as the paperless office never took off because the industry has always focused on the creation of, but not the consuming of, information.

"That's why the paperless office never happened," Brass said. "We didn't create the paperless reading devices and software."

Brass said ePaper, albeit not specifying whether it would be a product or a set of technologies, will address how users live electronically with paper, and would include better scanning and optical character recognition. He said he believes people are going to want to create content for the improved reading devices, and not just read prepublished documents.

Also, the ePaper initiative would need to look at how to manage the relationship between users and their paper, Brass said.

The tablet PC, which Brass calls the "continuous Holy Grail of computing," will also become more of a reality once immersive reading technologies such as ClearType take off.

"Immersive reading technologies will provide a future tablet PC with the ability to be a good read as well as a good write," Brass said. "The reading devices and technologies we're building are designed to build on every product we make."

The ePad will be more of a legal-size, freehand version of the tablet PC, Brass said, noting it would be using the same technologies.

Brass said he expects ClearType to be implemented systemwide, but expects the reader to either be part of the system or an application.

He said one current drawback of the technology is that legacy applications and documents can look different on-screen, and Microsoft is currently working to make this less noticeable. ClearType works on the concept of delivering less color to gain resolution, and this philosophy conflicts with the way some applications now work, Brass said. Except for this conflict, ClearType could be delivered sooner, Brass said.

"It's trivial to add to the operating system, but it's not trivial to make sure your applications don't look nice," Brass said.

Brass also hinted that Microsoft may be interested in doing more than delivering the technologies to enable people to read online books; it might also be interested in delivering the books themselves.

When asked if Amazon.com and such retailers would be the likely distributors of eBooks, Brass said he would prefer people to get the books through Microsoft, but that Amazon.com would probably have them as well.


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